Maryam’s Story by Chris Ash

Maryam’s story is a composite created for Freedom Network USA’s Decal Project campaign. Use allowed provided appropriate citation.

Content warning: forced labor, threats of sexual violence, domestic servitude

Maryam, 32

Maryam grew up in a family of refugees, and remembers very little of their lives before her parents came to Europe. She saw how much her family struggled with basic needs, and she always worried that she was a burden. When her parents told her a cousin in the U.S. had found out about a job opportunity for her, she was excited. She could work as a housekeeper for an American family, and they would help her apply to college through a local immigration program. She was nervous to leave her family and go to another country, but kept reminding herself of the courage it took her parents to leave everything they knew.

When Maryam got to the U.S., the couple she lived with informed her that her parents had been unable to pay for her travel expenses, and that she would have to pay those off by working extra hours before they could refer her to the college program. She worked all day most days, but by the time they subtracted her room and board expenses and added in interest on her loans, she didn’t really seem to be making any progress on paying off the debt. Some days, when she was too tired to work all day, they would refuse her dinner, saying if she was too lazy to work she didn’t deserve their food. And a few times, the man had told her if she couldn’t do the work they’d hired her for she had to pay it off through sexual activity if she didn’t want to “go to jail for breaking her contract.”

Sometimes, Maryam got to have phone calls with her parents. She was too embarrassed to tell them what was happening, but after a while, her mother began to worry. After months of calling in favors, a stateside family friend was able to get help for Maryam, and a local anti-trafficking program provided her with shelter and case management.

Maryam applied for a T visa and was able to get housing assistance through a grant to the victim service provider. Since she cooperated with law enforcement she was able to get continued presence so she can work and get medical care. She hopes the couple who held her in captivity will be convicted.